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Waitsfield Select Board moves to change water system fee structure

Some members of the Waitsfield Select Board want to switch the method of how users pay for water from the municipal water system sooner versus later and to that end took action this week to remove a member of the water commission who favors a go-slow approach.

Over the past month the select board and water commission have been discussing when and if billing for municipal water should be shifted from Equivalent Residential Units (ERUs) to metered usage. An ERU is the amount of water that a three bedroom house would use. Water system users were assigned a number of ERUs based on their septic capacity and wastewater permits.

When the select board met this week the board took an action to bring about that change sooner versus later by accepting what the board felt was the offer of resignation from Robin Morris, chair of the water commissioner, made at an October 14 meeting. Morris has favored waiting longer to convert to metered billing while some members of the select board want to make that change sooner.

At an October 14 meeting, select board members queried Morris about why the change could not happen sooner and Morris said that from his point of view it made more sense to gather more usage data and make the change next year. At that meeting he argued in favor of waiting two more billing quarters before making the change and suggested getting help in creating financial models to predict how the shift from ERUs (which provides a predictable income to the water project to meet its fixed debts and costs) to usage (per gallon fees that would vary based on times of the year, etc.) to impact the town and the financial health of the water system.

This week at the board's October 28 meeting board members went into executive session to discuss contract and personnel issues. When they re-entered open session, board member Scott Kingsbury made a motion to accept Robin Morris' resignation – as tendered on October 14. Board member Chris Pierson accepted it and Pierson, Kingsbury, board member Logan Cooke and chair Paul Hartshorn voted to accept it. Board member Bill Parker was not present.

At the October 14 meeting Morris was asked whether he would serve another term on the water commission.

"Well honestly, I'm pretty disturbed by what's going on here. I can't imagine any situation where you have water commissioners who are also on the select board and water commissioners are bringing commission business to discuss with the board before it is discussed with the water commission. Why would anyone want to be on the water commission? I've worked my guts out for the past year to get the system up and running and I'm asking myself, do I want to spend another year on this in this environment? It really doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I worry about the system. I'm very challenged by the notion of rushing to redo the billing," Morris said.

That statement, Pierson said this week, constitutes the resignation that the board officially accepted on October 28 after its executive session. Pierson also said townspeople and system users want the billing method changed because the ERU method is unfair to some users while benefiting other users disproportionately. He said that the long-term health of the system requires more users and equitable billing.

Following Monday's meeting town administrator Valerie Capels learned from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that towns who wish to remove appointed commissioners for just cause must follow a specific protocol of notifying the commissioner and holding a hearing. Capels told the board via email that she confirmed with the town's attorney that the select board vote to accept Morris' resignation did not have the effect of removing Morris from the commission and that the board should have a special meeting to discuss the matter with Morris before proceeding.

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